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The Power of Light and Space in Dementia-friendly Environments

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Designing space and lighting solutions for memory care facilities

In creating a dementia-friendly environment, the right lighting and space design can have an incredibly positive effect on resident quality of life. In fact, both artificial and natural light, as well as space design, can have an impact on emotional and psychological well-being.

How we integrate lighting design into dementia care homes

At Community Living Solutions, we’re dedicated to designing and building senior living communities that get to the heart of what our clients and their residents need. And when it comes to designing dementia-friendly environments, lighting design plays an integral role in not only creating a peaceful, healing environment but also making life easier for those who care for the residents.

Dementia care is complex and can be challenging to manage. So how is it possible that lighting and space—construction aspects that seem deceptively simple—make a difference? The answers may surprise you.

Biodynamic lighting allows us to harness daylight’s biological effects even in an environment with artificial lighting, like senior living communities. These biological effects are profound. Reduced exposure to daylight can lead to sleep problems, mood disorders and chronic fatigue. Meanwhile, biodynamic lighting allows us to mimic the variations of natural daylight through intentional design and light management. From a design and construction perspective, opportunities abound.

First, it’s important to note how lighting is shown to make a significant difference in the lives of senior living residents, in particular residents with dementia.

Tailored lighting intervention is proven to help those living with dementia

According to a recent 12-week study of multiple dementia care communities, increasing indoor exposure to daylight was shown to reduce depression among residents. More, it’s been found that exposure to the right amount of daylight is an effective non-drug treatment for those with dementia. Designing a space that allows for increased daylight exposure for residents could then feasibly improve quality of life for the 20 to 30 percent of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

In addition, appropriately tailored lighting has been shown to alleviate sleep disturbances. Among individuals with ADRD, nighttime wandering is a common concern. By reducing sleep disturbances through lighting design for dementia care homes, facilities can also reduce this phenomenon. Less wandering results in a reduced risk of dangerous falls. Also, a tailored lighting design or intervention that stimulates the resident’s natural sleep and wakefulness cycles are shown to decrease what’s known as “sundowning,” or late-day confusion among dementia patients, while improving behavioral problems and lessening agitation.  One recent study on lighting and Alzheimer’s patients showed at the end of just four weeks of lighting intervention, sleep disturbance and depression dropped significantly, and by the end of six months, sleep disturbance and depression scores dropped by half. Other studies have mirrored these findings while also noting decreased agitation scores.

The power of human-centric lighting

We all know that feeling we get when we’re outdoors and the sun just begins to dip below the horizon, the drowsiness that accompanies a rainy day or the joy of seeing the sun spread its golden light across the horizon in the morning. The role light plays in our mood and wellbeing is proven to us time and again, almost without us noticing it. With human-centric lighting, we design lighting while keeping in mind how it affects the many aspects of our lives. That means human-centric lighting is designed to optimize:

  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Perception
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Visual acuity
  • Sustainability

How well we can see is central to a number of our needs, from our sense of safety and wellbeing to our health, mood, task performance, social communication and aesthetic judgment. As a result, how we see and perceive our environment impacts our emotions, motivations, behavior and even our long-term memory.

Through biodynamic lighting in design for dementia care homes, we are able to send the appropriate cues to our bodies by mimicking the appropriate outdoor lighting for everything from dawn to daylight to dusk, including the nuances of an overcast sky, mid-afternoon sun rays and even sunset. Lighting “dose” can be adjusted for intensity, duration, timing and more, and it can be customized for individual environments, including resident rooms, community rooms and general areas.

Recommendations for creating dementia-friendly environments with light

Now that we recognize the potential for lighting in senior living environments and how it factors in dementia care, here are some recommendations for designing and building a dementia-friendly environment.

  • Maximize resident exposure to daylight during the day, but especially in the morning
  • Evenly illuminate spaces, to minimize contrast and especially shadows
  • Minimize exposure to blue-rich light sources after 8 p.m.
  • Use amber, or warm light sources, after sunset
  • Create dark environments for sleeping
  • Avoid using artificial light sources during the night
  • Be mindful of quality of life over quantity of light

Facility design for dementia care homes

In addition to lighting interventions, use of space and purposeful wandering capability for residents improves quality of life for individuals with dementia. From an architectural perspective, it’s important to design a home-like environment for residents, one which engages the senses, reduces confusion and feels familiar. Common areas that feel homey, including living room-like spaces and comfortable dining areas, go a long way in comparison to the hospital-like environments in the past.

Purposeful wandering has been shown to reduce agitation and confusion. Incorporating purposeful wandering into your design can be done in several ways:

  • Minimize dead-end corridors
  • Create activity areas to encourage movement
  • Design nourishment areas where residents have easy access to snacks
  • Develop sitting nodes, for a sense of place
  • Build interior, secured courtyards as a special focus for community spaces, and a safe place for residents to connect with nature
  • Organize life stations for residents to display familiar images and items
  • Incorporate memory boxes into wall spaces

Lighting and space: new frontiers in building a dementia-friendly environment

At Community Living Solutions, we’re eager to help you design the future of your dementia care home. From lighting to space design and more, our experts are ready to help you create a senior living community that provides the highest possible quality of life for residents while achieving your business goals.

If you are interested in seeing how we can help you develop senior care solutions and design for dementia care homes, request a consultation through our Contact page or call us at (920) 969-9344.